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Ludlow Castle in its Greatness and its Decay-View of the Town from Whitcliffe - The Welsh Marches - Early Strong
holds-Richard's Castle-Position of Ludlow-Ludford–The Old Bridge-Early History of the Castle-Joyce de Dinan -Fulke Fitz-Warine- The De Lacys and Mortimers-Ludlow a Royal Castle-Prince Arthur-The Earl of Bridgewater Lord President-Description of the Castle, The Great Hall the Scene of “Comus "-- Mary Knoll ValleyLudlow Church-Old Inns - The "Feathers"-The "Angel"-A Dark Story.
HE great Castle of Ludlow, in its glory the most important
fortress in the Middle Marches of Wales, within whose walls the Lord President of the Council of Wales held his magnificent court, is in its decay one of the most picturesque ruins in England. Time has, in truth, mouldered it into beauty. And
although other medieval castles, such as Warwick or Alnwick, which have never been altogether abandoned, and which consequently have never fallen into complete decay, may seem at first sight to offer a more perfect representation of a great baronial stronghold, it is very doubtful whether a thorough study of such a
ruin as that of Ludlow will not in the end prove more instructive. It will at least tell us quite as much of the ancient ground-plan and arrangements; and the very fact that the castle has been abandoned, has prevented all those alterations and remodellings which have done much to modernise large portions of the few great historical castles
which have preserved their life to the present day. The town of Ludlow stands, it need hardly be said, just within the southern border of Shropshire, and the station from which the town is approached is on the line of railway between Hereford and Shrewsbury. It occupies the ridge of a hill above the station; and the most conspicuous object in approaching it is the lofty Perpendicular tower of the parish church. This church tower crowns the hill; and we climb towards it by a street lined with many quaint old houses, the fronts of which are “pargetted”—that is, decorated with various devices, moulded in plaster, and set within crossing timbers of black oakafter a fashion much affected in this and the neighbouring counties. The town has an antique stamp, and suggests a prosperity that has in great measure passed away; but it is not until we have left the church, with a glance of admiration at the stately fabric which we shall presently examine more at leisure, and have passed round it to the south, that we find ourselves confronted by the outer walls of the castle—the kernel of Ludlow and the source of all its former prosperity; and it is not until we have left castle and town behind, and have climbed the hill of Whitcliffe beyond the river, that we can recognise the full importance of the position, or understand the claim of extreme beauty which has so often been made for Ludlow. The hill is marked by a clump of larches; and the most picturesque point of view—that which an artist would most eagerly seize for his studyis a little above these trees, on the turf of the sloping hill-side. The position and general character of the castle are better seen from the hill-top; but we may well linger half-way down, to admire the graceful outline of the far distance, the mass of towers and broken wall, the clustered leafage, and the broad, rushing stream that sparkles below. It is in early spring that this scene is most beautiful. The trees—oaks and sycamores—that grow on the outer bank of the castle and brush its walls are large and of some age. When the spring has not far advanced, their veil of leafage, their “yonge fresh grene,” scarcely hides the main lines of the castle walls, and yet adds a grace to their ruggedness. The walls are here and there rusted with lichens, and in places overgrown with ivy and tufted with wallflowers. Towers with irregular and shattered crests rise at intervals. Here and there the dark rock on which the castle is founded breaks through the thin covering of turf. Above the long line of ruined walls and towers rises the tower of the church, perfect, whilst those of the warlike fortress have been shattered; and far beyond eastwards, rising above church and castle, is the long ridge of the Clee Hill, with its overhanging summit. East and west the eye ranges over a bright, tree-shadowed country, with broken hills and green, soft meadows, rich and deep in colour. The clear sky of spring-time is flecked with cloudlets; the air rings with the voices of blackbird and thrush; the sound of the river comes faintly upward; and if by good fortune the bells of St. Lawrence should send their music across from the church tower, nothing will be wanting to complete the charm of a scene so beautiful and so suggestive.
To restore the castle in imagination we must get rid of nearly all the stately trees and rich masses of foliage which now add so much to its beauty.
Its great size, and the long stretches of its walls and towers, would then be far more conspicuous, and we may conceive the effect it must have produced on the Welsh forayers when, hurrying toward the spoil of the rich English fields, they came in sight of the fortress, " frowning with all its battlements,” and barring the way like a giant. It bridled the Welsh as Forth “ bridles the wild Highlandman ;" yet this border-watch is but a portion of its history. Few remains of military architecture in this country impress the visitor so powerfully with the feeling that their past life must have been at once
EARLY STRONGHOLDS IN THE MARCHES.
stormy and important, and no "worm-eaten hold of ragged stone” could speak more truly. It is impossible to look on the ruins of Ludlow Castle without wishing to know something of their history; and the labour of drawing it forth from chronicle and from record is. well repaid.
Ludlow, as has been already said, was the strongest and most important of the castles which guarded the Middle March of Wales; and although fortresses such as Chepstow, Raglan, Hereford, and Shrewsbury, which rose at other points along the Marches, were strong and of imposing extent, it may well be doubted whether any one of these was more considerable than Ludlow. All this Welsh March—the border-land, or advanced line, as it may be called, of English and Norman conquerors—had to be watched over and protected in an especial manner from the time when Saxons and Anglians first established themselves so far west of the Severn. Beyond the March lay the dusky Welsh mountains, with their turbulent and often aggressive defenders. It was hard for a Welsh chief or a Welsh peasant to know, and perhaps to see, that the richest lands of his forefathers -the green meadows of Shropshire and of Herefordshire—were in the hands of aliens, who made a mock of the Kymry and their tongue; and attempts to recover these lands and to drive out the invaders, or at least to spoil their goods, were so frequent that the Englishman or the Norman could only hope to maintain his settlement by turning his principal dwelling into something like a fortified stronghold. Accordingly we find, all along the border, and generally in the midst of the most fertile lands, many of those moated mounds which indicate the “strong house” of the earlier English settler, and which the Norman who came after him converted into a portion of the defences of his “castle”-a word and a thing, it must be remembered, which did not exist in England until the later days of the Confessor, and which did not become in any way a feature of the country until the completion of the Norman Conquest. The earlier strongholds consisted of these moated mounds, defended along the summits, and perhaps round the moats, by stockades of rough timber ; whilst a considerable enclosure, also moated, stretched away from the foot of the mound. The dwelling-place of the lord was within the stockade at the summit; and such a place well guarded must have been of considerable strength. The mounds of Ewyas Harold and of Kilpeck afford good illustrations of this old English "fastness," and may both have been raised in some part of the tenth century. With the Norman came the castle and the masonry of massive walls—places which dominated the surrounding country and kept a stern watch over the conquered people, whilst the English stronghold had mainly served for the protection of those who were gathered round it. One of the earliest, perhaps the very first of these Norman fortresses ever seen in England was raised on the Welsh border, at no great distance from Ludlow. This was Richard's Castle, as
Castle, as the place is still called. It was named from a certain Richard Fitz-Scrob, one of the Normans attached to the court of the Confessor, who was quartered by that prince on this exposed frontier, and whose coming was regarded by both Welsh and English with extreme dissatisfaction. But Richard lived through the opposition of the Welsh King and of the English Earl Godwin, and was strongly established in his castle when the Norman Conquest was. completed. He and his son Osbert then received large grants of land in Herefordshire and